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The Great Exhibition Highlights Queen Victoria's Reign



The Great Exhibition of 1851, and the success that followed it afterwards, was primarily the product of Prince Albert’s ingenuity, rather than that of Queen Victoria’s. After the old Houses of Parliament was burned down and the ensuing problems that occurred while planning the new building, Prime Minister Robert Peel thought of a royal commission that would oversee the promotion of arts and sciences. This led to Prince Albert’s proposal to launch the Great Exhibition.

Prince Albert Thinks of Holding the Exhibition

The Great Exhibition, 1851
Without consulting anyone, Albert planned the Great Exhibition with the greatest care. There have been exhibitions around the world before but he wanted to stage the grandest of them all and make it the crowning glory of the vastness and the technological advances of the British Empire. He also envisioned it to be a showcase of every country’s product – raw materials, machinery, manufacturing and mechanical invention in applied and plastic arts.

Since his childhood, Prince Albert was already an avid student of science and his capacity towards organization was proven after putting things in the Queen’s household to order, making him the most qualified person to handle the gargantuan task of planning and organizing the exhibition. Having conceived and finalized his plans, he organized a small committee to help him bring his ideas into fruition. After the committee approved his plans, work, however hard it was, began to realize his goals.
Front entrance of the Crystal Palace

Plans for the Great Exhibition

For two years, Prince Albert worked tirelessly for the Exhibition to push through. The initial stages ran smoothly with leading industrialists warmly welcoming the idea. The East India Company as well as the British dominions was sympathetic with this idea while the neighboring nations were eager to display their best. Behind Albert was Sir Robert Peel who, from the start, backed him up and the use of Hyde Park to build the massive structure that would house the exhibition he approved without hesitation. Of the 234 plans for the exhibition building, the Prince chose that of Joseph Paxton’s, whose talent in designing majestic conservatories was renowned worldwide.

Queen Victoria inaugurates the Crystal Palace at the opening of the
Great Exhibition

Exhibition interiors

Oppositions Mount Against the Great Exhibition

The road towards the realization of Albert’s dream was no easy way. Oppositions mounted over time and a great outcry suddenly burst, with The Times on the helm, against the use of the park of the exhibition. For a time, it was even decided that the monument be built at the suburb. It was only until after a series of heated deliberations in the Parliament did the use of the park become possible.

The grand opening
Then followed the lack of money to fund the project. Luckily, this was solved and L200, 000 was allocated. Indeed, there was no stopping for the enormous glass structure, aptly named Crystal Palace from over-towering and out-sizing the structures that surrounded it. But this, too, did not pass the public fury. In the House of Lords, Lord Brougham castigated the queen for allowing the construction of Crystal Palace at Hyde Park; in the House of Commons, Colonel Sibthorpe predicted that London would be invaded by foreign rouges and revolutionists who would break the morals of the land, steal the trading secrets of her people, and destroy their loyalty towards their faith and the sovereign. Subthorpe even said that he prayed for hail and lightning to strike and curse the building.

The Crystal Palace encloses trees in Hyde Park
But the Prince was not the person who could be easily put down. His unwavering perseverance and endless patience pushed him to achieve his goals. His health, no matter how affected it was from constantly sleeplessness and stressed brought about by the immensity of his duty, sustained him and permitted him to work harder and harder every day.

Queen Victoria Inaugurates the Great Exhibition

On May 1, 1851, Queen Victoria opened the Crystal Palace and officially inaugurated the Great Exhibition before a host of dignitaries awed and bedazzled by the structure. Indeed, it became a colossal success and the surplus, amounting to L150, 000 was used to build the South Kensington Museum, now known as Victoria and Albert Museum, as well as to buy adjacent land.

This article was originally published at Suite 101.

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